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Animal Defenders International

Movie Star Electric Shocked

Posted: 7 May 2011. Updated: 4 October 2012

UPDATE: Click here to see new video evidence of movie elephant suffering

Video released by Animal Defenders International shows the elephant that appears alongside Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the film Water for Elephants, being beaten and electric-shocked during training.

Find out more about the timing of the release of footage exposing cruel training of elephants.

Water for Elephants, a romantic drama set in a 1930s animal circus in the USA, stars Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. But the biggest star of the film is 45-year-old Asian elephant Tai, who plays Rosie, supplied by the performing animal supplier Have Trunk Will Travel, of California.

In the film Rosie, played by Tai, is brutally attacked by the circus owner who beats her with a bull hook. But the producers, stars, and trainers have been at pains to stress that Tai was trained with kindness, marshmallows, and positive reinforcement.

Gary Johnson, a founder of Have Trunk Will Travel claimed: “Tai was never hit in any way at all”.

American Humane observed the animal action during filming and said: “We’re here observing prep on Water for Elephants and so we’re here to make sure that everybody knows that not only the action on set but also the prep is humanely done, all these animals have been treated fairly and humanely throughout the entire course of their training.”

However shocking video, filmed at Have Trunk Will Travel in 2005, has been posted online by Animal Defenders International (ADI) after the London premier, that tells a different story.

  • Elephants including Tai are repeatedly given electric shocks with hand held stun guns
  • Tai cries out when being shocked into performing a headstand
  • Elephants including Tai are beaten about the body and legs with bull hooks
  • A baby elephant is hooked in the lip and cries out
  • An elephant is pinned with bull hooks whilst her tusks are sawn down, close to the bone

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Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI said: “We were uncomfortable with the message of this film, but the more we saw the repeated assertions that this elephant has been treated with love and affection and never been abused, we realized that we had to get the truth out. The public, the stars and the filmmakers have been duped. This poor elephant was trained to do the very tricks you see in the film by being given electric shocks.”

Kari Johnson, another of the founders of Have Trunk Will Travel has previously stated: “Have Trunk Will Travel has never issued a written endorsement, nor does it condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk.”

Gary Johnson and trainer Joanne Smith appear in the video giving the elephants electric shocks.

ADI are sending copies of the DVD to the film’s stars and makers.

Jan said: “I believe that Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson will be horrified to learn what Tai went through.”

ADI has also contacted American Humane, urging them to re-evaluate how they assess the use of animals in films and the statements being made which effectively endorse the use of performing animals.

What You Can Do

  • Please contact ADI today and find out how you can speak up for Tai and all animals being abused in the entertainment industry. If you live in the UK, please contact info@ad-international.org, if you live in the U.S. please contact usa@ad-international.org and ask for a Water for Elephants Letter Writing Pack.
  • Boycott this film and tell your family and friends to take a stand against animal cruelty by only supporting films without animal actors.
  • Leaflet moviegoers at a theater near you to educate them about the abuse of Tai and other performing animals. Contact ADI to order leaflets.
  • Contact your local theater with a copy of the DVD we can provide you, and politely ask them to make the right choice and stop showing the film.
  • Contact ADI for a letter writing pack with sample letters to Water for Elephants actors and movie makers, and sample letters to the editor to help you raise your voice for Tai and the other animals abused for entertainment.
  • Write a letter to your local paper about Tai’s abuse and educate the public that animal suffering is never romantic and it is never entertainment. (Sample letters available in our letter writing pack.)
  • Contact the Director and Producer and politely ask that they make Water for Elephants the last film they will use live animal actors. (Contacts and sample letters available in our letter writing pack.)
  • Share the link to the video on your Facebook and other social networking sites, to spread the word to family and friends.

Jan said: “There is only so much that can be monitored on set or by visits to suppliers, as we have shown before the actual training goes on in secret. But, as this video shows, the reality is that this elephant was taught the tricks seen in the film by being given electric shocks.

“Animal suffering is never romantic and it is never entertainment. People need to think very carefully before they go and see films with performing animals, especially wild animals like elephants. Our message would have to be that if you care about animals, then don’t go to see films where performing animals appear.”

In April 2011, the last elephant with a British circus, was removed from Bobby Roberts Circus after ADI filmed the horrific abuse of the old elephant in the circus winter quarters. It was one of a series of investigations by ADI of the systematic abuse of circus elephants, most recently the beating of elephants at the Great British Circus in 2009. Anne had also been hired out for television work.

Visit our Have Trunk Will Travel elephant training gallery
Visit our Have Trunk Will Travel elephant gallery


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